Sunil Narine's recall adds intrigue to third test

MARK GEENTY IN HAMILTON
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013
Sunil Narine
Getty Images
WILDCARD: Sunil Narine in action for the West Indies last year.

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He's the wildcard who could derail New Zealand's seemingly imminent test series victory. But with the benefit of inside knowledge and weeks of homework, the hosts believe they will douse the threat of West Indies offspinner Sunil Narine in the third cricket test.

Narine's recall for the banned Shane Shillingford adds intrigue to today's Seddon Park finale, where New Zealand only require a draw to bank their first series victory against a top-eight opponent since 2006.

After the one-way traffic on the country's largest roundabout in Wellington, a mystery spinner who took 12 wickets at 26 in two tests against New Zealand last year offers the wounded tourists their last roll of the dice.

New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum played alongside Narine for Kolkata in the Indian Premier League, where he became an overnight Twenty20 sensation and fooled good batsmen with his subtle variations.

Consistency in test cricket proved tougher for the 25-year-old Trinidadian who, in his fifth and most recent test in November 2012, took a combined 0-139 off 28 overs against Bangladesh at Khulna, blowing his career average out to 48.

"He's a far better bowler now than when he first came into international cricket. He's managed to develop his game nicely and whilst he's had some struggles with the red ball he did bowl well against us in the Caribbean," McCullum said.

While the West Indies' pace attack was poor, Shillingford showed on the final day in Dunedin how quality spin in helpful conditions can cause New Zealand some wobbles with the pressure on.

The hosts expected to face Narine in the first two tests, and feel they are up to speed, and McCullum said each batsman needed to be confident in their methods of trying to pick his "other one" which turns away.

McCullum declared an unchanged team from the innings and 73 run win at the Basin Reserve, with all-rounder Corey Anderson (shin) passed fit and backup paceman Doug Bracewell not considered due to a minor adductor strain.

Having cracked his first test win is skipper, McCullum is due some luck with the coin toss. The choicehas gone to the opposing captain in New Zealand's last three tests, although today's toss might be a good one to lose.

Curator Andy Brown's pitch looked dryer than what was seen on test eve in Dunedin and Wellington, and weather conditions may determine McCullum's decision if his opposite Darren Sammy calls incorrectly.

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"Last year the wickets didn't tend to start to turn later, so bowling first was a pretty calculated decision because we knew it wasn't going to break up. This year it seems to be a dollar each way," McCullum said.

"If we get cloud cover I'd say we'd look to bowl, if the overhead's clear then we've got a decision to make."

The Hamilton forecast is for morning showers, clearing in the afternoon with a maximum temperature of 22 degrees Celsius.

New Zealand have lost their last three Hamilton tests, by nine wickets to South Africa in 2012, 10 wickets against Pakistan in 2011 and 176 runs against Australia in 2010.

Batting collapses tend to be more frequent at Seddon, for whatever reason, and Mark Gillespie got amongst South Africa's powerhouse lineup in 2012.

Given the West Indies' surrender in Wellington against some outstanding fast bowling led by Trent Boult, New Zealand's pacemen will be confident. As New Zealand's batsmen demonstrated in South Africa and England, the mental harm from a collapse usually flows to the next test.

"We've seen in previous tests here that a lot of wickets can fall in one session and we have to be mindful of that with bat and ball," McCullum said.

After the bonus of two days rest at the weekend, McCullum's pacemen were champing at the bit to finish the job, while the batting lineup were aiming for their fifth successive 400-plus total in a first innings. Opener Hamish Rutherford is one who could do with morale-boosting runs.

West Indies, meanwhile, don't have many places to turn and will pin their hopes on Narine and hope it spins, and that their batsmen show a lot more application.

- Fairfax Media

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